BBC journalist Ferdinand Omondi’s father was a serviceman in the Airforce during the ’82 attempted coup, that happened about four years after late Daniel Moi ascended to power after the death of founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Omondi’s father was arrested and thrown into prison for allegedly participating in the coup. He was released six years later, but returned home a changed man. This, Omondi observes, denied him paternal love.
I will remember Daniel Arap Moi for many things.
I will remember Moi as the enigmatic President everyone loved and feared in equal measure. Growing up in the 80s, every bulletin on national broadcaster KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation) would start with news of the President.
‘Mtukufu Rais Daniel Arap Moi, leo hii….’ (In Swahili)
Which translates to ‘His Excellency the President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi today…’
The statement would then go on to tell us what the president was up to on the day. We knew when Moi went to church.
We knew when Moi went to a goat auction. And we knew when he hired and fired his ministers during roadside rallies, often on the notorious 1 pm bulletin.
I will remember Moi for Nyayo Milk. That was a feeding program he initiated for all public primary schools. We used to get milk twice a week; sometimes one packet, sometimes two.
We were told this was the President’s effort at ensuring hunger did not keep pupils from going to school. The President loved children, our teachers would tell us.
And I remember teachers using milk at the bait to keep us in school all day. On some days the milk vans would arrive by midday, but the distribution would be done during the evening assembly. We lived for free milk!
I will remember how school sessions would be interrupted whenever President Moi would visit parts of Kenya. Every school in the area code would call of class and send students to line up along highways and sing for the President as he passed by.
Back in High School in 1997, I remember walking 8 kilometres from St Joseph’s Rapogi High School to the nearest highway where the President was slated to stop on his way to Migori, a town in Western Kenya.
The school choir had rehearsed several patriotic songs, and only the most influential and senior students were allowed to participate.
Word was that the President, a man famously generous with handouts, always gave money to school choirs that sang for him. Senior students were not going to let Form Ones and Form twos to enjoy that manna.
Moi was slated to pass by our spot at 2 pm and address the people. We were there by noon. However, he did not arrive until nearly 7 pm; probably because he made too many stops. He was on the campaign trail.
And guess what. He did not even stop to address us: His convoy slowed down just enough for us to catch a glimpse of him through the sunroof of his SUV, smiling and waving his famous rungu (a club and symbol of power).
And that’s how days of rehearsals, two hours of walking and another 5 hours of waiting for the president on an empty stomach was rewarded with a 10-second glimpse of Daniel Arap Moi.
And yet, jaded and upset as we were, many of us we felt honoured to have seen the President with our very own eyes!
Perhaps the most personal memory I will have of President Moi’s reign was how his regime robbed me of paternal love. My father was an air force soldier during the aborted coup in 1982, the year I was born.
When the Kenya Army foiled the coup and a crackdown began in the military, my father was among the servicemen arrested.
He was tried and handed an 18-year sentence. He was however pardoned after serving 6; and that is when I saw him for the first time, in 1988.
I do not know whether my father was guilty or not. The crackdown affected both real and imaginary enemies, with lots of collateral damage.
My father never discussed it until he died in 2001. He remained very distant and often hostile. Neither did my mum. To understand him, I went digging.
The only reference I ever saw of him was a newspaper article in the Daily Nation of August 1982, in a series where the paper was profiling the court Martials.
I dug it up from the Nation Media Group Library during my time there as a journalist sometime in 2010. I was still trying to understand my father even in his death.
But all the newspaper had was an image of Corporal Michael Collins Owino, of the Kenya Airforce. Under his image, they summarised his defence in three words: I was following orders.
Rest in peace, Mzee Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi.
Rest in Peace, Michael Collins Owino.
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